Concerts Sanctuary Tranquillity 2023Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Grainger Studio. 3 Feb 2023


Tranquillity is the first in the ASO’s two event Sanctuary Series, designed to present serene music in the most relaxing and informal setting possible.


The expansive Grainger Studio, the Hindley Street home of ASO, is transformed into a sanctuary from the troubles of the outside world. Standard seating is available if you want, or you can opt for a yoga-mat on the carpeted auditorium floor very close to the orchestra. The mats are very popular with both young and not-so-young. You don’t need to be a yoga aficionado of course – just use the mat as a day bed, lay back, close your eyes, and let the music wash over you. The room is darkened, and the only lights are music stand lamps and a few flickering (electric) candles.


The music of course is carefully curated to evoke calm and peace. Tranquillity features the music of Arvo Part, Philip Glass, Glyn Lehmann, and Valentin Silvestrov. All pieces are fine examples of modern minimalist composition, and they are all ripe with soothing melody and hypnotic interest.


Pärt’s Sequentia is sparsely written partially in the form of a canon, and the moments of silence in it are as important as the notes themselves. Strings are played without vibrato, and it has the effect of cleansing your musical palette ready for what follows.


Glass’s The Hours Suite is an arrangement of music from Stephen Daldry’s 2002 film The Hours adapted from Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which is based on aspects of the life of author Virginia Woolf. The film stars Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep. The Suite is essentially a three movement piano concerto scored for piano, strings, harp and celeste. Under David Sharp’s baton, the orchestra was too robust in the opening movement – perhaps too full-bodied especially at the moments when new musical ideas entered. Pianist Michael Ierace captured the fragile beauty of the composition throughout, particularly in the second movement with redolent accompaniment on the cellos, violas, and basses.


Pärt’s Summa began its life as an a capella vocal composition but was later recast for string orchestra. Its harmonies are absorbing and the repetition of a simple motif within it has a satisfying meditative effect. The audience was spellbound and ghostly quiet. Not even a cough.


For this reviewer, the highlight of the concert was Glyn Lehmann’s The Wisdom of Trees, which receives its world première performance in this series. Lehmann is a South Australian and is well known for his vocal compositions, especially those written for youth choirs, and sound designs for theatre productions. The Wisdom of Trees, like the Pärt compositions featured in today’s concert, is built on pristine melodic lines that are often first introduced by a single instrument. Again, Michael Ierace’s pianistic skills shaped the composition form the start, and Cameron Hill’s solo violin sections were ‘goose bump’ material. The Wisdom of Trees appears to be straight forward: introduction of thematic material, development, re-statement, and variation. But that would be selling it short, in the same way that to say Glass’s The Hours is merely repetitive. It is transporting and deserves to be heard again on the mainstage.


The concert concluded with Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Silent Music for Strings. It has been said that this composition awakens memories, and, in their silence, the audience may well have thought about the shocking events that are unfolding in Silvestrov’s homeland. It is hard to reconcile those ongoing events with the beauty of Silent Music for Strings, and at its conclusion it was appropriate that the orchestra should silently leave the auditorium and then the audience without applause. Just contemplation.


The second in the Sanctuary Series will be performed in December and is entitled Eternal Beauty. It will feature music by Pärt, Sibelius, Satie, and Delius. If you work in the city, don’t delay in booking a yoga-mat seat (they sell quickly!) and be prepared to let the trouble of the working week be gently washed away in a calmed sea of serenity!


Kym Clayton


When: Concluded

Where: Grainger Studio

Bookings: Closed